Search the blog

21 Oct 2015

Leeds Museum Discovery Centre Visit

This morning, students from Art Gallery and Museum Studies have returned from their first visit of the semester. Leeds Discovery Centre is the main store for Leeds Museums, and houses 1.3 million objects in accessible storage. Gemma Pollard, a member of the Front of House team gave us a fantastic tour, even I saw bits of the store that I'd not been to before...

9 Oct 2015

Distant Drumbeat at Lyme Park

With my new found hours and hours of leisure time, having submitted my PhD on 28th September, I finally managed to recall that actually going to heritage sites ought to be something that I did.

So, with that in mind, last week I headed off to Lyme Park in Disley to see their contemporary art intervention Distant Drumbeat by the architect Sean Griffiths. Of course given the enthusiastic ways in which contemporary art has been taken up by heritage sites, it is clear that most are not 'interventions', but fully part of many museums' interpretation strategies.

In this case, Distant Drumbeat is part of New Expressions 3 programme to '[unlock] the creative potential of museums'.

I hadn't done any research about it before I set off so I didn't really know what I was going to find. Once inside the formal garden, it did take me a few minutes to locate, but it was a really sunny day so I didn't mind wandering about slightly aimlessly, until I spotted it at the top of the garden.

Like many of these installations, some thinking about what the 'work' actually is, is inevitable. I could describe the wooden structure with an electronic drum kit installed, but of course, the 'Lantern' belvedere to which it is connected must also be counted as part of the work. The Lantern (installed during Lewis Wyatt's nineteenth century redevelopment of the site) lies at one end of an important sightline, the other end being the house, or perhaps more accurately the dining table of Lord Newton. When gazing at the Lantern at breakfast, he would assess the clarity of the view, before deciding whether it was a good day for hunting. I digress... (although isn't part of the purpose of these to aid historical understanding?)

Griffiths has connected the drum kit to a set of lights installed in the Lantern so that, when the drums are played, the lights change colour. So, what else to say... well, I guess I was mildly underwhelmed. I had fun, yes, working out which drum was which colour, but already I can't quite remember whether the drums, being electronic, had much sound themselves. It was a very sunny day so I couldn't see the lights that well. The wooden structure itself was quotidian and 'shed' like; so I momentarily wondered whether, instead of paying the entrance fee, I should have walked up to the Lantern itself to get a closer look, but a necessary part of the 'work' of course, is interacting with it. I did reflect on the relationship between light, sound, landscape but found myself more interested in the question of whether artworks such of these should engage with the history of a site, or whether they can simply be playful ways of 'being' in the landscape.

Watching others interact, it was clear that the very simplicity of playing the drums was really popular with the very young, and the not so young. Without straying into ACE audience segmentation, the term 'cradle to grave' came to mind. Distant Drumbeat was clearly very engaging. I 'chatted' to lots of visitors.(1) They were all very enthusiastic, and several discussed the need to change 'the offer' so their interest was renewed. One comment has stuck with me. One woman I spoke to said that she would never venture to Tate Modern, but she loved seeing art in NT properties. Given one aim of these projects is to offer those not so familiar with contemporary art the chance to engage, clearly this is working. Though I did want to spend more time chatting to understand why Tate wasn't for her, but this was.

I still feel the need to think more carefully, to tease out some of the resonances of this work, but a week or so later, it has grown on me.

1. Peter Howard suggests lots of good research is done through chatting. Howard, Peter, Heritage: Management, Interpretation, Identity, (London: Continuum Books, 2003) p.122.

30 Jan 2015

Museums Change Lives

A quick note to share the recently published case study reports on how the Museum Association strategy is being applied. There's a news item on the MA website, here, and there you'll find links to lots of interesting material. There's the Tank Museum in Dorset working with young offenders, and the Scottish Football museum dealing with memory and self confidence.
I'm thinking particularly of my Introduction to Museum Studies students who will be doing presentations soon exploring recent museum practice!

You'll find the news item here.

5 Jan 2015

Digitisation in Museums

As a new book surveys landmark shows, museums are only just starting to catch up with the digital revolution of the photographic medium.
Around the turn of the century, books dealing with the relatively new art-historical subgenre of exhibition history were far a few between. Since the late 2000s however, as master's programmes in curatorial practice have proliferated, so too have publications on the subject of exhibition history. A recent addition to this category is Alessandra Mauro's book Photoshow; a historical survey of landmark photography exhibitions, ranging from the "International Exhibition of Artistic Photography" in Vienna in the 19th century, to Erik Kessel's 2011 show "24 hrs in Photos".
Aside from the book's descriptive analyses of the exhibitions and their significance, a number of critical and curatorial challenges presented by the medium are addressed. This included an interesting discussion between Quentin Bajac, chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and Alessandra Mauro, editorial director of the Forma Foundation for Photography, Milan, on the topic of curating photography in the age of the internet. "I have no doubt that the future lies in the digital museum" Bajac tells Mauro, adding, "by that I don't just mean a website [...] museums have yet to embrace the paperless form of photography, unlike the "public at large" and many artists".
For Bajac, the digital museum of the future will commission work that is meant to be looked at only on screen. (Paradoxically, digitisation allows museums to present the materiality of historic images in a way that is impossible in an exhibition or book). MoMA has started exploring the possibilities presented by digitisation, launching "Object: Photo" in December: an online extension to Bajac's exhibition of the Thomas Walther collection of Modern photography (1909-49). Utilizing technology, "Object: Photo" enables it's visitors to explore - in greater detail - the images by avant-garde photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Berenice Abbott among others. Looking behind the prints, exploring the results of X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and gaining access to additional information based on new research.
However, this is by no means a marker for change within the museum sector. Rather, an indication of MoMA's progressive intent. Depending on the art institution - their institutional outlook, type of collection, budget, and limited by architecture (to put it very simply) - museums are embracing technology at different rates and on varying levels. For instance, while the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam launched their interactive Augmented Reality app in 2009, and MoMA allowed an external hacking of their system to create an interactive curation platform, the 'no phone' / 'no photography' in the gallery ban prevailed in the majority of UK art institutions.
It will be interesting to see where Bajac takes digitisation next at MoMA.

Triennale Brugge 2015

Contemporary Art and Architecture Triennial of Bruges 2015
20 May 2015 - 18 October 2015
Brugge, BelgiumCurators: Tim Holger-Borchert, Lies Coppens, Michel Dewilde
Since 2007 more than sixty percent of the world population has lived in an expanding network of very large, unfinished cities. Attitudes to this phenomenon of global urbanization differ. On the one hand, a number of experts like Benjamin Barberi regard the city as a solution to a range of global problems. Where the traditional sovereign nation state and large international organisations fail, Barber sees the liberating potential of the city. Eric Corijnii also believes that cities are increasingly junctions for social and political reconstruction. Ruth Eatoniii, on the other hand, refers to the detrimental consequences of global urbanization and to its damaging legacy.
The Triennial sets out to explore this in the unique setting of a historic city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Brugge.
Central to the Triennial is the question of the future identity of the city and its possible role in the rapidly rising levels of urbanization: What can Bruges distil from the recent evolutions that typify the mega-cities? And conversely: can a small city that is protected by UNESCO contribute to the development of a new form of urbanization? In this connection the curators juxtapose two frictions: the representation of Bruges as a static medieval city versus the dynamic image of the unfinished global city. The curatorial team have linked the two frictions by means of a hypothetical question: "What would happen if the five million people who visit Bruges every year suddenly decided to settle here permanently?". (This reminds me of Ai Weiwei's '1001 Chinese Visitors' project, in which he invited 1001 Chinese citizens to visit Documenta 12 in Kassel, explore the town, the exhibition programme, and most crucially - to interact with other cultures. These interactions formed the content of the artwork, documented and preserved by filmmakers and an accompanying book of interviews. Corresponding to this, Ai Weiwei installed 1001 chairs from the Qing Dynasty throughout the exhibition spaces of Documenta 12, to be exposed to, sat on and studied by the German public and the many other cultures present at the exhibition).
Each of the invited European and Asian artists will interpret this area of tension in their own way, linking the fields of contemp art and architecture against the background of the intact historic city centre. Each of the outdoor works will be specially conceived for the 2015 Triennial. The end result of this process will be on show in the public space from May 20th to October 18th 2015, to then disappear from the cityscape. In addition to the outdoor art trail, there will be indoor exhibitions in various locations: De Bond, Arentshuis, the Town Hall and the Spanish warehouses.

21 Jun 2014

Period Room Conference, The Bowes Museum

The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience

Thursday 18th Friday 19th & Saturday 20th September 2014
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham
Since the late 19th century the Period Room has been a consistent presence in the public museum, and yet over the past 25 years the Period Room has become a contentious museum object, leading many museums to question the legitimacy of the Period Room as an effective and appropriate method of display and interpretation.
As dislocated fragments, often remodelled to fit the spaces in the museum, the Period Room is, for some: a signifier for the inauthentic, an outmoded method of display and an example of unfashionable museum interpretation. Many museums retain their Period Room displays, but the recent changes in the perspectives on Period Rooms have also led a number of museums in the UK, Europe and the USA to reconsider their continued relevance as museum objects. This may include dismantling or de-accessioning the displays, and in some cases, repatriating the Period Rooms to their places of origin (if they still exist).
  This conference, jointly organised by the University of Leeds and The Bowes Museum, and supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, considers the Period Room, and the historic interior, from a wide variety of perspectives in order to address some key questions about the history and practice of Period Room displays in Museums.
The conference has an interdisciplinary framework incorporating theoretical and practice-based perspectives. It brings together leading academics and museum professionals from a wide range of institutions in the UK, Europe and the USA, to discuss, debate and share perspectives on history and interpretation of Period Rooms and historic interiors in museums.
For conference delegates there is also a chance for wider participation in the debates through the mid-conference ‘Sandpit’. We hope that the conference will have wide appeal and that it will have a significant impact on future museum practice and museum theory.
Conference highlights include:
Keynote talks from Thomas Michie, (Senior Curator, Decorative Art and Sculpture at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Giles Waterfield, (Former Director, Dulwich Picture Gallery).
Closing conference address from Professor Helen Rees Leahy (Professor of Museology at the University of Manchester).
Conference speakers include museum professionals from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; National Museums, Scotland; Historic Royal Palaces; The Science Museum, London; The Jewish Museum, Vienna, and the Universalmuseum Joannneum, Graz. As well as academics from University of Cambridge; University of Ghent; KTH Royal Institute, Stockholm; De Montfort University; University of Durham; Open University; University of Potsdam; University of Southampton.
Included in the conference fees are:
Presentations on the innovative methods of display and interpretation of the English Interiors Galleries at The Bowes Museum, led by senior curators.
An organised field trip to Auckland Castle.
Evening wine receptions at both The Bowes Museum and Auckland Castle.
The full conference programme and costs are available via The Bowes Museum website:
For further information, or to request a booking form please contact Rosie Bradford at The Bowes Museum by email: or by telephone: 01833 694615.
We expect high demand for Conference Tickets so we advise booking early.

16 Mar 2014

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, at the University of Leeds, are hosting an event on 5th April, 2.00pm-4.00pm  So, you want to work in the art world? / A workshop with creative entrepreneur Dom Smith
Dom Smith, editor of Soundsphere Magazine, co-founder of the Disabled Entrepreneurs Network and director of creative agency, The Creative Condition, will be in the Gallery to provide some key tips on getting ahead in the arts world and promoting your arts business or idea. 
The key aim of this workshop is to inspire start-up creative business owners, artists and writers; and to address central aspects of business promotion - from creating press releases and news story building, to utilising social media and blogging platforms to their full potential.
This workshop is open to all aged 16+, particularly professional or budding artists, creative thinkers, idea generators, entrepreneurs and fledgling journalists...
Please bring your own laptop if possible!   
To find out more about Dom and his work visit his website:

This is a free workshop but places are limited so please book in advance. A refundable booking fee of £5 will be taken upon booking. This will be returned to you on arrival at the workshop. Cancellations within 48 hours of the event will not be eligible for a refund.

All tickets must be booked online:

For more information contact the Gallery on 0113 3432778 or by email: